Where do totalitarian leaders go for state visits these days?
That was the question recently faced by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
And who could blame Ahmadinejad for wanting to get away from Tehran for a while? Sometimes after a tough week of developing nuclear weapons, planning the blockage of international shipping channels and condemning American tourists to death, a tyrannical leader just needs some time to be alone with his thoughts.
But where can despots go to get away from the daily grind of oppression and just hang out with like-minded kooks?
Why, Cuba, of course.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent his Latin American “solidarity” tour to Havana this week shortly after the United States toughened sanctions on his government. It was a whirlwind stop for the president. He dropped by the University of Havana and, after giving a speech denouncing capitalism and America, received an honorary doctorate.
Following his rousing address, “Dr.” Ahmadinejad visited with Fidel Castro for several hours and reportedly said, “It was a great motive of joy for me to find [Castro] sane and healthy” — a statement that makes you wonder who Ahmadinejad hangs out with back home in Tehran.
Imagine the two human rights abusers, lighting up cigars and knocking it back dictator-to-dictator, old-school style. Ahmadinejad probably started with a joke about how he denied the Holocaust. Castro responding by denying the number of Cubans he has killed since coming to power.
Those crazy authoritarians.
Sanctioned soul brothers
It is no coincidence that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed up in Havana days after being slapped with additional sanctions by the Obama administration. He went to Cuba for a reason.
Cuba has been dealing with American sanctions since the early 1960s. If you want to laugh in the face of American leaders, head to Cuba. Fidel Castro and his little brother Raul have been thumbing their collective nose at American leaders for a half-century.
Despite 50 years of American sanctions, the Castro boys have killed upwards of 18,000 political opponents. Another 7,000 dissidents have died in Cuban jails. As many as 50,000 Cubans have lost their lives trying to escape. Gay Cuban males have been routinely sent to concentration camps.
An American, Alan Gross, was held in jail for over a year without charges. His eventual conviction in a Cuban kangaroo court would be considered a miscarriage of justice in any country with even nominal respect for the rule of law. In Cuba, the Gross sham was simply business as usual.
This past December, when Raul Castrol announced plans to release 3,000 prisoners from Cuban jails, Alan Gross’s name was not on the list.
Despite the continuing heinous conduct of the Castro brothers, the Obama administration cut ties between the American Interest Section in Havana and Cuban dissidents. Then President Obama loosened U.S. sanctions.
The response of the Cuban government … continued human tights violations and a state visit from Iran’s president.
If a world leader wants to flip the bird at America, they go to Cuba. The brothers Castro give lessons on how to do it.
Which country should change?
Yesterday, in a column for US News and World Report, Mort Zuckerman opined that it is time for the United States to change its policy towards Cuba and called for further weakening of economic sanctions. This is the same Mort Zuckerman who two years ago called for tougher sanctions on Ahmadinejad.
But it isn’t America’s policy that must change, it’s Cuba’s. Zuckerman’s description of Raul Castro as a reformer is a farce and insulting to anyone who cherishes freedom and liberty.
Last year, Cuba experienced its highest number of political arrests in three decades. Raul Castro releasing a portion of the political prisoners he sent to jail in the previous year can hardly be considered reform. It is simply a ruse Raul learned from his big brother Fidel, who released prisoners to appease President Jimmy Carter in 1978. After Carter eased sanctions, the arrests started anew.
Try explaining Raul Castro’s “reforms” to the Ladies in White, an opposition group made up of female relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents. Their peaceful marches and protests are routinely met by violence from Raul Castro’s thugs. According to recent reports, attacks against the Ladies in White have increased since the Obama administration weakened sanctions. An attack this month was committed by a pro-government mob sent to a remote section of Cuba on state-owned buses.
Painting Raul Castro as a reformer is like labeling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as pro-Israel.
If anyone is looking for a policy deserving of change, stand at the southernmost point in Key West, Florida and cast your gaze 90 miles south. An American policy demanding recognition of basic human rights and liberty trumps Fidel and Raul Castro’s policy of tyranny and repression every time.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.